How to Write a Dynamic Book Review


As of 2015, Book Scan’s total print book sales recorded in at a whopping total of 653 million units. While ‘traditional print books increased almost 3%, and e-books’ share of the total market slipped from 27% in 2014 to 24% last year’, these statistics are still a sure-fire indicator of the public’s ongoing passion for reading books.

With so many readers on the hunt for the latest and greatest ‘good read’ in the literary melting pot, writing a dynamic book review that will grab the attention of a potential reader can make all the difference to a book’s success.

Writing the book review

First things first, you will have had to read the book. Secondly, once you have finished the book, you need to consider what to include in your review? Whether you are reviewing a book or a film, the structure or elements of a review remain the same.  Some book reviews include general information like who wrote the book?, what was the story about?, what is the theme?, and other highlights of the book, character, plot, etc.  But I have chosen to talk about writing a critical book review. 

There are five sections to a critical book review.

1, Identification of the work that is under review

2. Context of the work under review

3. Description of the work under review

4. Assessment of the reviewer

5. Identification of the reviewer

So let us go through each of these sections one by one.

1. Identification of the work under review

The first important thing is that the reader knows the identification details of the book that you are critiquing or reviewing.

When you begin to identify the work, include these details.

  • Who wrote it?
  • What is the title of the book?
  • Who else was involved, co-writers, illustrators?
  • When was it written/published?
  • Where was it published?

The identification panel or publication details are placed before the actual review, like this:

Title of the work
ISBN Number
Number of pages
Format of the book (paper-back Pb or hardback Hb)

If the book is to be rated on the internet, like on the Amazon website, you will notice that there are a set of four or five stars that will be included, so that you can click on them to give the book a rating.

2. Context of the work under review

Once you have identified the work that is under review, you can start writing the review. In this part of your review you will place the book into a wider context, so that you are establishing a background and framework for the book. You can use a social-cultural or historical context or a literary context.

Here is a list of contexts that you can use in your review:

Author’s books. Has the author written other books? You need to have read or have a good knowledge of other books by the author.

Genre. Include some brief details about the history of the genre, past and present works in the same genre. Again, you will need to be familiar with genre classification, and other authors who write in the same genre.

Current issues, debates or news. This is the part of the review that will require some research to make sure that the issues or debates/subjects or themes that you will use in your review is relevant and up to date.

Personal reading experience. This part of the context requires you to draw upon your own reading experience or tastes, but remember that the book review is not about what you like or dislike. Keep the reader in mind, your focus should be on the book and its author, and why the reader should (or should not) read the book.

Also, when readers read reviews, they will also be critical of the reviewer as well as the ideas that you are using in the review.

3. Description of the work under review

The third element of the review is the section where you need to describe the book. You will have read the book and be familiar with it. The reader has not read the book and they want to have a good idea of it before they decide to purchase it. So when you start to describe the book, here are some ideas to include.

Overall Description

Describe the genre of the book. Is it a historical romance or a crime thriller?

Theme or topic of the book. Is it a battle for a fantasy world or a hunt for a serial killer?

Writing style of the author. Does the writer use a first person or third person narration? Is is written in a diary style?

Issues that are explored in the book. Does the book cover issues that relate specifically to women, or are there issues that relate to animal rights or ecological concerns?

Literary techniques.  What kind of techniques does the author uses to create the story-world. Does the author use streams of consciousness, flashbacks, etc.

Setting of the book. Is it a beach setting or a futuristic world?

Plot strategies. Does the author start at the end of the story and develop the plot from there? Are there plot twists? Is there a continuous smooth flowing plot or are there multiple plot lines?

Characters. Who is the hero? What is their conscious need or goal? Is their desire for freedom, protection of loved ones, pursuit of a love interest. Who is the villain? How do they provide the conflict in the book?

Specific Description

You can provide quotes or illustrative images from the book, or use a direct quote from the author about the book.

4. Assessment of the reviewer

The assessment of the reviewer is the most important part of the review. You have provided the foundation of the review by building your case for the book with the context and description (the greater social and literary context, genre style, writing style of the author, plot strategies, character profile, and personal reading experiences).

All of these details establish you as a reliable critic who can now make their final judgment, and give the book either a one star or a five star rating.

5. Identification of the reviewer

In this final section of the book review, and also an important one, is where you identify yourself as the critic or reviewer. The identification of the reviewer provides your status as a reviewer and contributes to your credibility as a reliable literary voice, which will also boost the authenticity of the review.

Your identification should be a short bio that is located at the end of the review. Some relevant details to include can be as follows:

  • Professional experience.
  • Reading experience or any books that you have may have written
  • Experience as a critic (if any)
  • Life experience ( university degrees, etc)

A check list for writing the book review.

Before you begin to write your book review, consider this questions:

Who is the readership for the book? You need to consider your readership. Is the review to be shown in a literary magazine, a university journal, or a general women’s magazine. Every publication or website has its own demographic, and an audience with a particular level of expertise and reading experience.

What is the publication’s particular style? Depending on where you will be publishing the review: in a magazine, a newspaper, or on your own website, each medium will have its own style, and require a particular tone or type of ‘voice’ from its writers.

What are the current issues in the world? It is always a good idea to be well read or be media savvy, so that you can use that knowledge to provide a well grounded socio-cultural background for the review.

What is your particular aim, or what kind or angle are you going to take in writing the review? You need to be aware of your intentions or what you want to achieve with this review? Consider these four questions:

1. Do you want to be objective or subjective?
2. Are you representing a particular audience?
3. Are you a fan of the author or book?
4. Do you see the book as a ‘must read’ (is it covering a controversial topic or a social justice issue like human trafficking?)

Finally, if you are going to write a negative review, you need to think about it very carefully. You will need to justify your views by establishing the reasons ‘why’ you are providing a negative review. If you are going to give your opinion, it has to be more than just “I hated the work”; your review has to be presented with a good balance of objective and subjective voice.

Writing a book review is a combination of being well read, being aware of what is going on in the greater world, keeping up with cultural, literary and genre trends, and to be aware of the needs and interests of readers.

Happy writing!